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As The Dragon Flies

by Verrath

"Pooffff! Ssssssss!"

The placid lake hissed furiously when the blast of fire touched down on its calm surface, less than five paces away from the tiny one-masted raft that was floating serenely along. Steam billowed up, obscuring vision, even as the surface started to boil and bubble like a witch's cauldron.

The craft lurched violently, nearly dislodging one of its two occupants before she could fling both arms around the mast, where she now hung on for dear life. Meanwhile, the other stood upright without a handhold, compensating for the jerky movement of the vessel on supple legs, looking for all the world as if she was checking out the booth of a weapon vendor on market day.

A second blast of white-hot fire struck close by, accompanied by a metallic roar and a leathery, flapping sound, high up above. The figure at the mast squeezed her eyes shut, lips moving soundlessly. It was hard to tell whether the words that left her mouth unheard were prayer, or indignant and slightly jealous rant against her oh so self-assured companion, who was absent-mindedly dodging a burning piece of deadwood that was hurtling towards her from out of the steaming inferno.

"Xena!" the one glued to the mast yelled, barely heard above yet another angry hiss. This time, the fire had struck close enough for the resulting steam to completely obscure her stolid companion for a few heartbeats.

The warrior lifted an eyebrow and half-turned towards her friend.

"I told you not to touch that thing, but no, you had to go and..." A deafening bellow drowned out the rest of the words, and she cowered in anticipation of the next blast.

"Oh, come on, Gabrielle, how could I have known that thing was so attached to a bit of rock? Besides, I've never seen a lump of stone that makes that kind of noise when you squeeze it..."

"Yeah well, that was probably because the 'lump of stone' as you like to call it, must be worth at least all the Dinars in Athens, and you were standing on that monster's tail when you stole it. Warriors! Sheesh."

The warrior had the grace to look sheepish, but only for a moment. Drops of condensed steam glistened on her bare arms and legs, glittering like diamonds when she reached back to draw her sword.

"Well, whatever, it's time to put that steam-head back to sleep," she growled, brushed aside a strand of damp hair, and took a battle stance on the heaving planks. "And it did not steal it. I retrieved it," she added under her breath.

"You know, it might just calm down if you give it its things back," Gabrielle suggested. "As fond as I am of treasure, but there is a place and time for everyth-"

"Nuh," Xena grunted, and barely brought her blade up in time to deflect another stream of white-hot fire. The bard could see the corded muscles on the warrior's arms bulge and strain as the blast was deflected and sent careening into the tall marsh grass on the nearby shore, which promptly caught fire.

"Close," Xena muttered.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes heavenward and sighed.

Above, the frustrated howl of their steam-shrouded attacker echoed angrily.

"Awww put a lid on it," Xena told the misty sky above her impatiently. She was answered by a high-pitched roar, like bronze grinding on stone. The leathery creak of large wings grew louder as the creature descended through the heated haze that its fiery breath had wrought.

And then suddenly, an errant breeze stirred the air enough to disperse the mist, revealing at last the full picture of their aerial attacker.

It was huge, bigger and more majestic-looking now that it was airborne than it had been in the confines of the cave, where only a section of its torso and tail had been visible. Big bat-like wings held the sinuous body aloft while the dragon's reptilian head swiveled slowly to zero in once more on its bobbing target. Gold-green reflections ran glittering along the creature's flank when it writhed to change direction, tail lashing and six legs pedaling to stabilize the huge body in the air.

"Hold it!" a voice boomed out.

The dragon paused in mid-flight, looking around to see where the voice had come from. Warrior and bard seemed similarly flabbergasted.

"What now?" this was a different voice, exasperated.

The dragon exchanged a puzzled glance with the humans on the raft, and all three shrugged, the creature's whole body rippling with the gesture.

"Dragons don't have six legs, you dummy."

"Of course they do! And stop calling me dummy."

"Nuh, they don't, they've got four legs. Four."

The dragon wavered for a moment, and then suddenly it had, indeed, only four legs!


And the dragon, grimacing, changed back to its original appearance.


"Four. That's final, or I'm not playing.

"Oh, sheesh Sina, what's the big deal? You never complained much about my stories before."

"Landbound dragons have six legs, flying dragons have four legs," Sina insisted, tossing another burning stick into the small pond just off the lake, where a soggy little paper boat was leaning crazily although still barely afloat.

The water made a little hiss, and the flame died. "Water-dragons have fins," the dark-haired girl added for good measure.

"And how do you know that?" Gabby asked her. "After all, that one," she pointed to the single, three-inch-long dragonfly that was hovering close for some reason, "has six legs."

"I can rip out two of them," Sina offered calmly, making as if to catch the insect in her fist.

Gabby caught her arm, stopping the halfhearted movement. "Don't be a jerk!"

Sina grinned. There was a gap where one of her front teeth had recently fallen out. "Thought I'd do it, didn'cha?"

"Oh, you!" Gabby pouted.

Sina's grin broadened, and she lit another twig, tossing it at the soaking paper raft. A satisfied grunt escaped her when she scored a direct hit. The boat tilted precariously, and eventually dumped the flame into the water, where it died with another hiss.

"Someone's going to see us and yell at us," Gabby said. "We're not supposed to play with matches."

"This thing is called a lighter."



I just don't want another of those... accidents," Gabby said, looking pointedly at a blackened patch close by that was still smoking faintly.

"Oh, don't start on that again. I saved us, didn't I?"

Gabby pouted. "By wasting a perfectly good bottle of lemonade, yes."

"Still mad about the lemonade, huh?"

Gabby said nothing, and watched the large dragonfly as it circled the little paper boat.

Frowning, Sina sat in the dust and crumpled a dry leaf in her hands.

"It was my favorite kind," Gabby finally added.

Sina contemplated the parched remains of the leaf in her hand, and the lighter in the other. "Sorry," she finally mumbled, and looked relieved when her friend seemed mollified. Then, so quickly that Gabby hardly had the chance to gasp in horror, she lit the lighter and set fire to the dried flakes on her palm.

"Sina, are you out of-"

Hissing in pain while trying to seem not to, Sina flicked her wrist and sent the smoldering leaf bits in a glittering shower towards the pond, where they went from hot orange to wet black with a sizzling noise.

I'm the Warrior Princess," Sina said nonchalantly. The act was spoiled a little, however, by her watering eyes and the surreptitious rubbing at a slightly blackened palm. "Pain," she sniffed, " is of no consequence to me."

Gabby rolled her eyes, but then she dutifully acknowledged the 'Warrior Princess' and her antics with an admiring smile.


"Pain is of no consequence to me," Xena said stoically, ignoring the blackened palm of her right hand as she grabbed her trusty Chakram. Above, the reptilian form was doing a series of barrel rolls, before dipping to nose-dive straight at them, jaws gaping as it inhaled.

"It's going to attack again!" Gabrielle shouted above the whoosh of air as the creature huffed and puffed, gathering fuel for its devastating breath weapon, even as its wings beat up a minor storm above their heads.

"Uh-huh," grunted the warrior, and sent her Chakram flying.

"Why is it making that funny noise?"

For now the dragon was breathing harder yet, sucking in air with a mighty wheeze and snorting it out through its snout like an overtaxed cart-horse.

"Dunno. Maybe it's a smoker."

"You oughta know," the bard muttered darkly. She got a flat stare in reply, to which she shrugged apologetically.

Meanwhile, the Chakram had reached the top of its arc just above the reptile's head, where it hovered briefly in midair, before it reversed course and smacked the dragon soundly on the snout before whirring back towards its Mistress.

The monster yelped and started wobbling in the air. It suddenly appeared to be in serious trouble, from the way its legs were flailing (still six of them, or so it seemed) and its tail was whipping back and forth.

"I think it's going down..." cried the bard

"... and it's headed straight for us," Xena observed, snatching the Chakram out of the air and tucking it into her belt in one fluid motion.

"Great, just great. How do you always manage to get us into these things?"

"Animal magnetism," grunted the warrior.

"Oh, no," Gabrielle said suddenly, pointing. "That's no ordinary dragon. It's changing into a human... Hera above, that means it can only be..."


"How do you always manage to get us into these things?" Gabby muttered to Sina as they both watched the tall figure approaching. Clad in gray sweats pants and black top, pumping weights with bulging biceps as she jogged, along came none other than Sina's somewhat less than well-liked soccer coach.

Her face was damp with sweat, and the ragged rhythm of her breath did indeed strangely resemble the sound a dragon might make just before it belched forth its blast of fire.

The dragonfly, startled by the ominous shadow now falling over it and the two girls, zipped upwards with a metallic buzz, and was gone.

"Oh no, what's she doing here?" Sina whispered, at the same time the buff woman said "What are you two doing here?"

"She always jogs by the lake around this time. I tried to tell you..." Gabby fell silent in mid-whisper as the tall form of Miss O'Leary loomed over them, gray-blue eyes luminous in the gently wavering backlight from the tranquil pond. A large bruise bulged on her left forehead.

Sina quickly slipped the hand holding her pink Frisbee behind her back and put on her most innocent face (which in truth made her look more guilty than a dog caught stealing a steak off the kitchen table).

"I believe," Miss O'Leary said in her strong voice, "that a couple of people over at the barbecue place are looking for their lighter." A meaningful glance took in the blackened spot on the ground and the soggy, charred wads of paper floating in the water, before she looked at the two girls, who were biting their lips. "You don't happen to have any idea where it might be, do you?"

Sina quickly shook her head, and surreptitiously cuffed her friend, who seemed about to say something.

Miss O'Leary raised an eyebrow - which made the bruise on her forehead somehow stand out more starkly - and pointed to the lighter in question, which was lying in plain view by the bank of the pond, its metallic surface gleaming innocently in the afternoon sun.

"You don't, do you," said Miss O'Leary in a tone that made Gabby squeak. Sina, for that matter, looked like she would like to run and hide somewhere far away, but only for a moment, before she stuck out her lower lip in defiance.

"I suggest you give those people their lighter back, and don't let me catch you playing with fire again, ladies, or I will have to find a new goalie, among other things. Is that understood?"

"Yes, ma'am," Gabby said in a shaky voice. Sina only nodded sullenly.

"And watch that Frisbee," she said as she turned and continued jogging her round, rubbing her bruised temple briefly with the back of her hand before taking up her weight-pumping once more.

"Don't even think about it, Sina," she added when her back was turned.

Gabby gasped, and barely caught Sina's arm before she could hurl said Frisbee at the tall woman's back.


"A dangerous one, that," Xena said. Her blue eyes were mere slits in a suspicious face that watched the creature assume her dragon form once more.

"Watch that Chakram." Wings pumping powerfully, the Dragon Lady raised herself up and away, a dark shape against the dazzling afternoon sun.

"We'll have to watch her closely," said Xena. "She's a mighty powerful one. Maybe I should-"

"Don't even think about it," the dragon roared from afar.

"Guess not," the warrior said, and tucked her Chakram away.

"Well, you had to rouse her interest, didn't you?" the bard said sourly. "It could've been such a nice an peaceful afternoon, but NO! Playing with fire, that's you. Have you at least learned something today?"

"Oh, come on, wasn't it worth it? Did you see that bruise?" the warrior giggled quite un-warriorlike. I'll bet it'll turn all shades of blue and black by tomorrow. Can't wait to see it!"

"And her temper will hardly be better, when we see her next time...," Gabrielle grumbled.

"Can't have everything."

"Say, wouldn't it be cool if we could tame her? I bet it's a lot of fun to put a saddle on a dragon and ride it up into the skies..."


And voices fading, a little warrior and bard started walking slowly along the well-trodden path by the lake.

"Gabby? That's not the way to the playground..."

"Nope. Come along, we've got a barbecue to go to, and a lighter to give back. If we want hamburger for dinner, that is."

"Awwwwwwww, man! But I like that lighter!"

"I bet my dad is having fits right now 'cause he can't find it. I hope he's not gonna kill us..."

The End

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